Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Stambaugh-Thompson’s

Stambaugh-Thomposn

Growing up, when my dad needed something from the hardware store, we would probably go up to the old Cleverly’s Hardware on Mahoning Avenue and N. Hazelwood. I remember it as an old, wood-floored store with a patina of dust on everything. You just had to tell one of the guys, usually Mr. Cleverly, what you needed and he would take you to it and weigh out what you needed if it was nails or nuts and bolts or find the right amp fuse for the one that had blown at home (remember fuse boxes?). I think we shopped there because we lived next door to one of the Cleverly’s until he was in ill health and sold the house.

The premier place to go for hardware around Youngstown was Stambaugh-Thompson’s. Stambaugh’s started out at 114 West Federal Street in 1846. The store became Stambaugh-Thompson’s in 1887. They had a couple major fires at this location including one in 1904 that set off ammunition on the third floor.

Stambaugh’s led the way in opening a number of stores, including ones on the south side in the plaza on Youngstown-Poland road, the west side on Mahoning Avenue, one in the Uptown area as well as other stores. In more recent years, they opened a large store at South Avenue and Route 224 in Boardman. One of the things that seemed to set Stambaugh-Thompson’s apart from the old-fashioned stores like the one my dad always shopped at when we were young was that they were big, well-lit, and had a much larger selection of items in clearly marked departments. My wife remembers going to the store on Youngstown-Poland Road and that it had a main floor and basement levels.

What fueled the growth of these stores was this expansion into the suburbs, and the fact of so many people who had grown up in the Depression years “do-it-yourself-ing.” My father-in-law and his brothers built his garage, and then used the same plan to build ones for each other. You needed a new bathroom? Many plumbed them and did the work themselves. A new addition? Maybe you got a contractor for some work and then did the finish work yourself. All of this meant lots of trips to the hardware store.

My last trip to Stambaugh-Thompson’s was probably some time in the early 1990’s to help my mother-in-law buy a new lawn mower for her yard. We bought it from that shiny new store in Boardman. By then, I think they were just calling themselves Stambaugh’s. My mother-in-law was an amazing lady who took care of her home until she was 84 when she was diagnosed with cancer. She would arrange with friends to take the mower in each year to have the blades sharpened and the mower tuned up. We inherited that mower in 1998, an MTD self-propelled mower with a Briggs & Stratton engine and I literally used that mower until the wheels fell off a few years ago.

I loved going to that store–whether it was for power tools, gardening implements, paint, hardware, you name it. Even though I was living out of town in a big city, I thought the store got it just right. So I was saddened when I heard that the chain of twenty-six Stambaugh stores went bankrupt in 2000. I don’t know what the reasons were and could not find this in my online searches but I suspect it was the competition from big national chains like Lowe’s and Home Depot. At any rate it meant the disappearance of one more of those iconic names in Youngstown history.

Review: One Nation Under God

One nation under God

One Nation Under God, Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2015.

Summary: Explores whether and how it is appropriate for Christians in the American context to engage in politics,  how one brings one’s faith into this, and applies this to seven contemporary issues.

Politics is front and center right now in the middle of the presidential convention season. The question of how people of faith engage in the political process is a larger question than just how we pursue electoral politics. Whether and how we engage our political processes is a question over which Christians have pondered from New Testament times down to the present. What Ashford and Pappalardo provide here is a thoughtful primer addressed particularly to the current American context that can be useful for both adult education classes in churches and as a text in Christian colleges as part of a political science reading list.

The first part of the book seeks to frame a perspective for participation in the political process. It seeks to understand politics within the framework of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation–a process that reflects us as image bearers, has been affected by the fall, and is shaped by Christian hope. The book surveys four approaches to cultural and political engagement, similar to H. Richard Neibuhr’s Christ and Culture. They draw on Kuyper’s concept of “sphere sovereignty” to discuss the relation of church and state under the overarching Lordship of Christ, avoiding extremes of statism or theocracy. And this part concludes with the need for wisdom and conviction as we engage a post-Christian and plural public square. We need to be skilled at articulating both “thick”, biblically informed positions, and “thin” public articulations that use shared language and points of common ground to make our arguments.

The second half of this book explores seven contemporary issues of public discussion and seeks to exemplify the “thick-thin” approach to these. The issues are those of life and death, marriage and sexuality, economics and wealth, the environment and ecological stewardship, racial diversity and race relations, immigration, and war and peace. What a struck me was the inclusion of issues of race, environment, and immigration in a book published by a conservative, Baptist-based press. While still leaning toward some of the positions of “the religious right” the section on environment refuses to engage in climate-change denial but advocates creation care, the section on race admits our long and sad history and the work to be done, and the section on immigration challenges both parties for their stands and actions. Similar to Russell Moore’s Onward (published by the same publisher and reviewed here), this takes a more “prophetic” prospective arguing that the church must indeed speak “truth to power” to those in both major parties without becoming captive to either.

In fact, this is the theme of the concluding chapter, which commends the example of Augustine as one who was steeped both in the scriptures and the great works of Roman culture and could speak with both “thick” and “thin” language, depending on context and need.

As noted above, this is a great introductory book for discussions on Christian political involvement. It introduces the thoughtful contributions of a wide range of people from Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak to Martin Luther King, Jr., Francis Schaeffer, and Rosaria Butterfield. The “issue” chapters conclude with discussion questions and suggestions for further reading. I hope this book will be widely used and might foster a more constructive engagement of Christians in politics and a more thoughtful and gracious discourse in future years.

____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

The Illusion of Safety

safetyfirst

I’ve avoided endorsing particular candidates on social media, and I will continue to do so. I grew up in a context where who we voted for was our own business. Truth is, as I’ve commented elsewhere, I wrestle with whether I can vote for either of the presidential candidates in good conscience.

What I did want to engage is the idea from Monday night’s Republican convention of making America safe again. There is an element of truth underlying this advocacy. It is a legitimate role of government to provide for public safety which means protecting its constituents from harm from both external and internal enemies.

What is troubling in part is that we are tempted to trade liberty for safety. Fear for our safety can be used to suspend various civil liberties. The proposal of religious tests is one of these. While the fear is of a particular type of Islam, once the door is open to this, such tests might be applied to a particular type of Christian, Jew, or even atheist. Likewise, the loosening of restraints on illegal search and seizure (notably in both traffic stops and electronic surveillance) is also troubling. It also seems that we need to find a way for gun enthusiasts and those concerned about the incredible proliferation of guns to come together to address gun violence without abridging the Second Amendment. The civil liberties we enjoy in the Bill of Rights are a rare and wonderful thing. Trading these away for safety in the end make us less safe from tyranny, the exercise of naked power.

Building walls and closing doors to immigrants may not actually make us safer unless we also close our borders to the flow of ideas. “Self-radicalization” shows us the folly of thinking that if we just keep certain people out, we can be safe. A vigilant compassion is much harder to achieve, yet it seems that on balance we are enriched by welcoming those seeking a better life in this country, as they create rather than take jobs, and contribute everything from beautiful music to technological and medical breakthroughs that save and enhance lives.

The truth is, life has never been safe in a fallen world. Our lives are set about with a host of dangers from childhood to our last breath. Any responsible person certainly does what they can to mitigate those dangers, and this ought to move us not only to self-protection but concern for the most vulnerable. But a life lived in constant fear, a life that chooses only the “safe” is not much of a life. Almost always, our heroes are those who have risked safety in some form, not recklessly, but with thought and courage for greater ends.

Ultimately, I think what Jesus said makes a lot of sense: “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33 NIV). Only when we have something for which we can lose our lives are we “safe.” Any other form of “safety” is illusory or temporary at best.

 

 

Books During Troubling Times

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????What part do books play in your life during tumultuous times? Right now, we are in the midst of political convention season with harsh words both inside and outside the convention halls that are symptomatic of our national fault lines. Our news seems an endless stream of violence and hate and the angry responses of others. How do you deal with all of that? And what part do books play?

Some of us may simply decide these are not times when one should bury one’s nose in a book. We get caught up on CNN, or Fox News, or NPR, or the endless bits and bytes of information on Facebook and Twitter. Truthfully, I think most who follow this route simply ratchet themselves up to high levels of anxiety, anger, or depression.

Books offer a great escape for some of us. For a time, we can imagine ourselves in imaginary worlds, on fantastic voyages, or in idyllic settings. Maybe there are wars, but they are far off and imaginary with clearly drawn lines of good and evil–orcs versus men, Romulans versus Earth. These are worlds with heroes and villains. Or we join a clever, iconic detective like Hercule Poirot as he (or she) ferrets out the murderer, as in the Agatha Christie mystery I am reading at present.

For others, we read to understand–whether it is books on Islam, on race relations, on political processes and past presidents. We read to be able to understand how we’ve gotten to this place, to reflect on our way forward and what may be learned from the past. We want to go deeper than the news story soundbites and the ponderings of pundits. Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns opened my eyes to the huge internal migration of Blacks from the south to the northern cities of our country between 1915 and 1970, and how it has shaped race relations to this day.

Sometimes we need books that help us step out of our own situation to get perspective from another time and place. While I am disturbed by the unrest in our own country, reading Rohinton Mistry’s account, in A Fine Balance, of India during Indira Gandhi’s time as Prime Minister and the country was under a state of emergency, I gain a renewed appreciation for living in a country where there is still a commitment to the rule of law, that serves as the basis or ground for protests of injustice, where law could not be bought, sold, and enforced by strongmen. It reminds me that if we become complacent about advocating for the living out of a nation’s highest ideals, either at home or abroad, we risk losing something precious and rare in the world.

Finally, it seems to me that we sometimes respond to troubling times by going back to sacred texts as well as the great works of literature. A recent book on lament pointed me back to the biblical language of lament that allows me to give expression to grief and sadness over the paroxysm of violence we see in the world and the bitter enmities that fuel that violence. Troubling times remind us that we can’t live on mass culture pablum, that we need to keep company with those who have wrestled with the deepest questions of the human condition.

I am not going to make particular recommendations for what you ought to read. What I might suggest is that all these different types of books have a place in our reading in troubled times. Books help us confront the deep questions our troubles raise, give us perspective and spiritual resources, and help us lay aside questions that cannot be resolved in a day when it is time to do so. Read well in these times, friends.

 

 

 

Bookstores as Safe Spaces

20151219_152949

Publishers Weekly posted an article yesterday titled When a Bookstore is Also a Safe HavenThe writer, an independent bookstore owner proposed the idea that for many, bookstores serve as safe havens during times of national or personal crisis. She wrote about the instinctive sense during 9/11 that her store in Utah be open, and it was packed. It’s not always that people want to buy books, but they want some place where it is safe to process, with oneself or others–patrons and booksellers.

I hadn’t thought of bookstores in this way until I remembered that on 9/11 I was in Cleveland for a funeral of a friend and between gatherings, and after the news broke, I had a few free hours. Where did I go? A bookstore. I drank coffee, followed the news, called home, and tried along with the others who I’d never met to wrap my mind around the truth that our world had changed on that sunny September day.

I’ve noticed that some of my favorite stores are those where the booksellers and many of the patrons know each other. It’s kind of like Cheers where everybody knows your name. Yet I hesitate with this as well. I don’t go to bookstores for a social life, or a confessional. I go for books. Sometimes, I’m a bit creeped out if a stranger gets too friendly, and as an older guy, I don’t want to be that person either! I ordinarily find my social life with family, work, and my church, and some other long time friends.

The article writer notes how stores, particular those who cater to particular communities, may serve as a hub at a time of crisis, as was an LGBTQ store during the Orlando club shootings. For others, there is a greater safety than in a church or a bar. I do find that some stores, particularly if they provide places to read or work with a beverage in hand, often develop a regular clientele who form a kind of community.

They also provide a place to help us try to make sense of what has happened, both in conversations and with books (a way us readers often try to make sense of the world.) As you know, I’ve been an advocate for the value of brick and mortar stores as “third places” as well as for the level of service they provide, particularly as they become to their patrons tastes. This article took it a step further, suggesting they provide a vital public service in times of crisis. In our scary times, perhaps that is something we should value and preserve. I’m glad there was a place like that on 9/11.

Review: Prophetic Lament

Prophetic Lament

Prophetic Lament, Soong-Chan Rah. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015.

Summary: A commentary and exposition of the book of Lamentations that advocates for the restoration of the practice of lament as part of the worship of American churches, particularly majority culture evangelical churches.

Have you every experienced terrible suffering, or terrible loss, or have witnessed horrible events such as have dominated our news of late and been deeply moved to turmoil and grief that cries out to God, or even the four walls around you, “how long?” Now, when was the last time that you did this as part of a service of worship in your church, if you regularly attend one?

Soong-Chan Rah contends that this was an important part of the worship life of ancient Israel that has been lost in many of our churches in North America. We focus on triumph and victory and success. We see problems and we go around the world to solve them. And we begin to believe we are the answers to the world’s problems–whether they be the problems of the inner city or the problems of the countries in the majority world.

Rah contends that our celebration and praise must be balanced with lament. He writes:

“What do we lose as a result of this imbalance? American Christians that flourish under the existing system seek to maintain the existing dynamics of inequality and remain in the theology of celebration over and against the theology of suffering. Promoting one perspective over the other, however, diminishes our theological discourse. To only have a theology of celebration at the cost of a theology of suffering is incomplete. The intersection of the two threads provides the opportunity to engage in the fullness of the gospel message. Lament and praise must go hand in hand.”

Rah seeks to redress this imbalance by an exposition (part of InterVarsity Press’s Resonate series) of the book of Lamentations, a book attributed to the prophet Jeremiah. Rah contends that in addition to Jeremiah, the book incorporates the voices of the sufferers left behind in Jerusalem after the Babylonians destroyed the city walls and took into exile the best and the brightest and the wealthiest of the city. What were left were women, children, the elderly and other marginalized people to mourn over the death of their city and the loss of loved ones as they struggle to survive.

The book is organized according to the five chapters, or “laments” of the book, with several chapters devoted to each lament. Chapter 1 mourns the death of the city. Chapter 2 struggles with what it means that all of this has come about by the providence of God. Chapter 3 which is three times as long as the other chapters forms a climax to the lament and calls us into deep identification with the suffering. Chapter 4 reminds us of the hollowness of all human achievements in the eyes of God. Chapter 5 concludes with a corporate lament that looks to God for answers even when their don’t seem to be any answers.

Along the way Rah provides textual and historical insight into the book, discussing the “dirge-like” character of these laments, appropriate at the funeral for a city, the death of a vision of national greatness. He helps us understand the acrostic structure of the first four chapters, including the threefold intensification of this pattern in the climatic chapter 3. Perhaps of greatest value is that Rah helps us identify some of the voices of the marginalized, particularly the women who have lost husbands, perhaps children–who often are the voices of suffering.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of the book is Rah’s pointed applications of the book to the American church, particularly dominant culture, white evangelicalism. We have failed to listen to the voices of lament around us, from the native peoples robbed and subjugated and exterminated and marginalized, from African Americans forcibly enslaved, raped, lynched, and then “freed” to live in a racialized society, and other poor and marginalized in our society. Instead of taking their laments to heart and understanding our own complicity and our own paradoxical enslavement to hate and privilege, we deny the problem, or plant our own urban churches or give “handups” which assumes a certain superiority. What we do here, we do around the world, instead of acknowledging the riches of every culture and our partnership with other believers. We make enterprises out of even our justice ministries while failing to face either our cultural or political captivities.

Lament is the place we come to, according to Rah, when we realize that none of that is really working, when even our well-intended efforts contribute to the inequities of the world and that we are deeply impoverished in the midst of our affluence. It is a place of both repentance and the grace of God.

This is an uncomfortable book, and like Rah’s The Next Evangelicalism (reviewed here), an incisive critique of American evangelicalism. Don’t read this if you are looking for a “feel good” book! But if your heart aches because of the predominance of violence and hatred despite so much “progress,” if the glitzy celebrations of your church life don’t seem in touch with the ragged realities of our land, and if your stomach turns with the pronouncements and alliances of some of our religious “leaders,” then a book on lamenting and making the prayers of Lamentations our own might be timely. It was for me.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Shopping Plazas

Liberty Plaza in its Hey day

Liberty Plaza, probably in the 1960’s. Photo by Hank Perkins, used with permission of the Mahoning Valley History Society Business and Media Archives collection (http://mahoninghistory.org).

As Youngstown grew in the post-World War II years and automobile ownership grew as well, shopping opportunities began to move out from the downtown with the development of shopping plazas. Unlike some of the mom and pop stores where you either walked to them or could park on the street nearby, these were set back from the roads, usually a main thoroughfare, with acres of parking in front of the stores.

The plaza nearest where I grew up was the Mahoning Plaza. I remember when the big anchor store in the plaza was J.C. Penney’s, and there was a Mahoning Bank branch, a Murphy’s, and my favorite, the Western Auto store, where I bought accessories and replacement tires and inner tubes for my bikes. I believe there may also have been a drug store, possibly a Gray Drugs. As I started earning money, I used to buy my school clothes at J.C. Penney since I thought my fashion sense was better than my mom’s. Looking at old pictures, not sure that was so. I’ll admit it–I was a bit of a dork!

This was one of a number of plazas that sprang up around the city. On the far south side, you had the Boardman Plaza, which stretched for what seemed like a half mile along Rt. 224. Further out on Mahoning Avenue was the Austintown Plaza as well as the smaller Wedgewood Plaza off of Raccoon Road. The east side had the McGuffey Plaza, one of the first plazas developed by the Cafaro Corporation,  and the Lincoln Knolls Plaza. On the northside, there was the Liberty Plaza. There were other, smaller plazas scattered around town as well.

I dated a girl for a while who lived in Liberty Township and we could walk to the Liberty Plaza from her house. We’d shop at some of the stores and take in a movie at the Liberty Theater. I remember seeing the Beatles “Let It Be”, which would have been in the spring of 1970, when it was released. Sadly, it marked the end of the Beatles as a group. And not too long after, our relationship ended as well, and with it regular trips to the Liberty Plaza. Later on, I remember buying lots of vinyl from a record store (Peaches? Oasis? I can’t remember) in Boardman Plaza, where my mother-in-law liked to shop when we were in town. But it was around this time that Southern Park Mall and Eastwood Mall became the places to hang out and so I spent lots less time at plazas.

Almost all of these plazas have undergone fairly drastic changes. A huge Walmart sits where Liberty Plaza once did. I understand McGuffey Plaza (later Mall) is no more.  Both Boardman and the Mahoning Plazas are still alive, but with much different mixes of stores than they once had. Youngstown’s changing economy, shopping malls, standalone big box stores, and more upscale shopping developments (like the Shoppes at Boardman Park) worked together to change the landscape of shopping plazas in Youngstown, even as they began to cut into the downtown stores of an earlier era.

What were your memories of shopping plazas in the Youngstown area growing up?

Review: The Big Change

The Big Change

The Big Change, Frederick Lewis Allen. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2016 (forthcoming,  originally published in 1952).

Summary: A social history of the United States from 1900 to 1950 chronicling the expansion of the middle class, the technological changes that occurred, and the impact of two World Wars and the Depression.

Want to know what life was like for your grandparents or great grandparents, and the changes they saw in their lifetimes? This is a great book for understanding what the U.S. was like during the first half of the Twentieth Century. It was fascinating for me, as someone born two years after this work was first published in 1952. The book ends just before I began and the last chapters describe well the Baby Boom years of the early 1950s, and describe well the changes my own parents saw in their growing up years.

Frederick_Lewis_Allen

Frederick Lewis Allen

Frederick Lewis Allen was a popular, rather than academic historian who served in a variety of editorial positions including editor-in-chief of Harpers Magazine from 1941 until shortly before his death in February of 1954. He was a contemporary of such popular historians as Allen Nevins, Douglas Southall Freeman, Bernard DeVoto, and Carl Sandburg. The Big Change was his last work, and a National Book Award finalist in 1953. He also wrote histories on the decades of the 1920’s (Only Yesterday) and 1930’s (Since Yesterday) as well as an economic history of the U.S. from 1890 up to the Depression (The Lords of Creation). All of these works have been re-published recently by Open Road Integrated Media.

While not having read the other works, I sense that this book is a synthesis of all of them that not only summarizes each of the periods covered by the others, but does so with an eye to the transformation of the United States from an economy with a small percent of very rich who lived in extravagant homes and vast disparities of wealth and poverty to a post-World War II economy with a huge expansion of consumer goods, mass communication via radio and TV, and changing cities with the vast migrations from rural to urban setting, including Blacks (called Negroes in Allen’s time) from the Jim Crow South.

The first part of the book covers the beginning of this period, describing the technology of the period, including the beginnings of the automobile age, the robber barons and their wealth and a relatively limited government, at least until Teddy Roosevelt. Part two chronicles the changes Roosevelt and the muckrakers brought, the growth of mass production, including the revolution Henry Ford led, the 1920’s as the last gasp of the old order, the grinding experience of the Depression, and the acceleration of economic and social change brought on by the war experience. The third part talks gives an economic and social description of the country at the end of the period, describing the growing middle class, the reduction of wealth disparities due to progressive taxes, and the alternative form of luxury spending of the period known as the expense account. He also chronicles the leveling influence of education, mass media, and the wide availability of goods once the exclusive preserve of the wealthy.

He concludes with the apprehensions of the early years of the Cold War and McCarthyism, the concerns about an increasingly large government and large corporations, and the growth of educational and economic opportunities for many and the vibrancy of private organizations and individual initiative in the country. Discussions of racial faultlines anticipate both the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, and the growing affluence anticipates the counter-culture reaction of the later 60’s and early 70’s.

His style is very readable, even a bit “chatty”. The origin of the book was a Harpers article and it has the feel of a well-informed communicator who knows his audience well enough to engage with them directly. Reading this nearly 65 years after it was first published brings home to me how much we have changed since then–the complexities of a post-Soviet, post 9/11 era, the boom in information technology and the interconnectedness of everything, and the social changes of an increasingly diverse nation. This is a transformation I’ve lived through and makes me wonder who will write “Big Change II.” Whoever that may be, Allen’s book provides a great jumping-off point.

________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Am I A Book Hoarder?

20160713_134100

The books we sold yesterday

If Wikipedia is to be believed, the answer is “no.”

The technical term is bibliomania, which Wikipedia defines as follows:

Bibliomania can be a symptom of obsessive–compulsive disorder which involves the collecting or even hoarding of books to the point where social relations or health are damaged.

My enjoyment of books may mean I have bookish friends, but my wife has no plans to leave me. I’ve not squandered the family savings nor is it impossible to walk through the rooms of my house because of my books. I can part with books, lending or gifting them (often the same thing!) to friends, or giving them to charity or selling them, as I did yesterday with a box of books. The one danger to my health is I, like many, have to guard against a sedentary life, but I do not sacrifice food, other activity or sleep for books. I don’t buy books simply for how they look. Nor do I commit crimes to obtain books (bibliokleptomania).

The general term for a person like me is a bibliophile. What I wonder is if we need another term for those who might love books a bit more than might be good, yet in ways that fall short of hoarding. I propose the term bibliohyperphilia or “the excessive love of books.” Here might be some of the signs of bibliohyperphilia (or BHP since that is a mouthful):

  • Very simply, we acquire more books than we read.
  • Our TBR stacks keep growing, perhaps into different parts of our living space.
  • We have more books than shelves to hold them.
  • We find other bibliohyperphiliacs and enable each other.
  • Cruising bookstores becomes a primary form of recreation.
  • We are tempted to read in a more driven, frantic way because of our unread books.
  • We have no hope in our lifetime of reading our unread books let alone re-reading books we’ve read and kept.
  • We do book blogs which serve as a form of justification for our reading habits! Look at how we are helping others connect with good literature!

I find that among others of similar ilk, we laugh about and pass off this behavior as our own brand of eccentricity. But to see this list in print, each item of which I have to confess as being true of me, sends up red flags that tells me I have a problem. But what is that, exactly? I think for me, the real issue can be a love for accumulating knowledge, particularly about dimensions of life I cannot directly experience. If I see a book on something that has piqued my interest, or a work of fiction I’ve heard to be good, and it can be had at an inexpensive price, I want to snap it up, even if I can’t read it for the next five years–I want to be able to sometime!

As a person of faith, to admit an inordinate love of books can be troubling. It’s not just about being a little bit weird. It raises a question for me about whether I love and trust books more than God. Convictionally, I would say an absolute “no!” But in practice…? Hmm, let’s change the subject!

Actually, let’s not. One thing worse than confessing our sins is ignoring them or being blind to them. One thing about bringing this inordinate love to God is to be reminded that not only does God forgive, God will love me back! That’s something no book can do. And that knowledge thing? A few years ago, it was pointed out to me that Colossians 2:3 says that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. No library, let alone an individual book can make that promise.

I know that not all who read this buy the God part, but for me this seems part of getting any inordinate love back in order. There are so many things, from sex to food and drink, to clothing and books that are good in themselves, but can be taken to excess. The reading of books can help me grow in love for God and God’s world, when part of a life ordered by and offered wholeheartedly to God.

For those looking for practicalities, my reflections have led me to these steps:

  • To freely lend or give books to those who ask or when the subject matter would be helpful–even if I haven’t read the book.
  • To either dispose of a book I’ve read or if I shelve it, make space by getting rid of another book.
  • I’ve begun going through unread books stored away and getting rid of those I know I won’t read but could benefit others. At first this was hard but I find myself getting more ruthless over time, and more realistic about saying “I’ll never read that.” It also helps me be more selective about the books I acquire.
  • I’ve thought of adding more bookshelves but perhaps the decision is simply less books, only those I really need for reference or those special books that I have come back to and re-read. We have enough shelf space for the books I really “need.”
  • My wife has pointed out that we don’t want our son and daughter-in-law to be looking around our home and thinking, “are we going to have to get rid of all that?” That has motivated a good amount of getting rid of books and lots of other stuff.
  • To not enable others or rationalize my own BHP.

I’ve written pretty honestly about my own BHP in the hopes that it will be helpful to others. I’d invite my friends to help me as well. Remind me to slow down and savor books. Encourage me to pursue other forms of recreation besides cruising bookstores. Relieve me of my books as long as this doesn’t feed a BHP problem of your own! And for those who share my faith, please keep encouraging me in the pursuit of the love and wisdom that may be found in God alone.

 

Bookstore Review: Half Price Books Online

New   Used Books  Textbooks  Music   Movies   Half Price Books

Screenshot of HPB.COM taken 7/12/16

I’ve been a customer of Half Price Books going back into the 1990’s. They have six stores in my city and we’ve been to them all. They are the source of a number of the books, vinyl, and CDs we’ve purchased, and also a place where we’ve sold these items. Recently, I’ve received emails about their online bookstore, HPB.COM, touting a “new” online presence.

This makes sense of some things we’ve seen in their physical stores. It used to be that all you saw on merchandise was a little price sticker. Increasingly, these have been replaced with barcode labels, with adhesive that makes them not easy to remove at times (a subject for a separate post sometime!). Essentially, with the right IT work, this creates the capacity for them to have over 120 warehouses scattered across the country, and to be open to book buyers from everywhere, all the time, and not just those who walk through the door. If Amazon is indeed getting into the brick and mortar book store business, Half Price, one of the more successful brick and mortar sellers, is going after the online market.

So how have they done? Here are some of my impressions as I’ve looked around the website. First of all, when one goes to the home page, you are welcomed to the “new HPB.COM.” As you mouse over this you can “start shopping” immediately or move the banner to the right or left and see other featured promotions going on either online or at their stores, including their current city-wide clearance sales. Clicking on “start shopping” takes you to featured best sellers of the week, new releases, rare finds, staff picks, books made into movies, and a special HPB collection, which has changed at least once already today. You can also scroll down the home page to see boxes featuring bestsellers, various news items about Half Price Books, staff picks, and more.

Across the top of the page is a drop down menu bar allowing you to go to various pages for books, movies and TV, music, textbooks, rare finds, as well as a “gift card” and an “about” page. Each of the first four drop downs provides links to popular categories, customer favorites, and “superbuys” by price. Just below that menu bar is a search box that allows you to search for a particular title or category.

And this is where it gets interesting because it will give you a featured search result and price, usually for a Half Price store somewhere in the country, and then below, a “marketplace” that includes other places where the item is for sale, not only other Half Price outlets, but also other online “third party” sellers. Prices can sometimes be very low, less than $1, depending on the book, but you should be aware that there is a $3.99 shipping fee for each item, plus sales tax if you are in a state where Half Price does business. Even so, it may be possible to find things at a lower price than at other online sellers, but I would compare, and look at user ratings.

One feature I wish the site had that I could not find, even though I searched for my favorite local store, was the capability to find out if the item was at that store. You can if you scroll down a list of all the available items but you will not be taken there directly. What you can do once you locate your local store is find out about events, staff picks, meet the manager, and more, which is a nice feature.

I did not find anything here that made this my “go to” site for buying books online. But I should add the caveat that I really prefer brick and mortar stores in most instances. I would also say that HPB.COM needs to do work on its connection with Google searches. For example, I searched a book I recently received, Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fujimura. It can be found on the HPB.COM site but searching online it does not show up on the first five pages of a Google search, where it is listed with a number of online sellers as well as at the publisher’s site. Even adding the term “Half Price Books” or “HPB” will only take you to the HPB.COM homepage.

My sense is that the industrious and adventuresome will find some good deals here, and hopefully have a good customer experience. I do think it is an interesting site to see what others are writing about books, including current bestsellers or new releases. Having watched Half Price over 20 years, it also wouldn’t surprise me that they continue to enhance this site. But I think I will continue to do my own book-buying at my local favorite HPB, or at a handful of other local or out of town bookstores I order or purchase from, along with using Amazon for something I need quickly. But that reflects as much as anything my love for the serendipity of visiting a store and finding something interesting that you weren’t looking for. But I’ve bookmarked the site–and you never know!

Have you ordered from HPB.COM? What was your experience?